Face Time

Our reporter gets ready for her own digital close-up in this month's Back Story


Some day soon, movies will feature ”actors” that are just software. Countless high-tech companies are working toward that goal [see ”Ready for Their Close-ups,” in this issue]. One of them is a little company named Mova on the third floor of a former can-making factory in San Francisco’s Dogpatch district.

When Senior Editor Tekla S. Perry, who edited the article, visited Mova in February, the Mova team put her into a swivel chair inside a metal cage, facing a bank of fluorescent tubes and 28 high-resolution digital cameras. For about an hour, Perry tried not to sneeze, scratch, or moisten her lips as a production assistant sponged her face with a cold mixture of phosphorescent and flesh-toned makeup. After the makeup dried, Perry was ready for her closeâ''up. During the exposure, black lights alternated with standard lights to create two sets of images—one with her face in normal lighting, one glowing eerily in the dark.

Mova’s computers took the black-light image, analyzed the random glowing patterns that had been created when the rough sponge dabbed on the phosphorescent makeup, and created a digital mesh representing Perry’s face and its movements in three dimensions. Were Perry appearing in a film, animators might change this digital actor into a space alien, but for now, her image stands as captured. You can see the video at /ns/video/IEEE-4phases-480p-H264.mov.